Neighborhood News: Fall 2019 UrbanMain Update

October 4, 2019 | Neighborhood News: Fall 2019 UrbanMain Update | By Dionne Baux, Director of Urban Programs at the National Main Street Center | Beane.jpg
A visit with Vanilla Beane, Washington DC's famed milliner who celebrated her 100th birthday this past September. From left to right: Edwin Washington, Executive Director of The Parks Main Street; Cristina Amoruso, DC Main Streets Coordinator; Vanilla Beane, owner of Bene Millinery & Bridal Supply; Dionne Baux, NMSC's Director of Urban Programs; and Jon Stover, Managing Partner, Jon Stover & Associates

Greetings Neighborhood News readers! The dog days of summer have passed, and fall is in full swing. This year marks the third anniversary of Dionne Baux’s role as the Director of Urban Programs at the National Main Street Center. This past year, Dionne has been busy traveling across the country, forging new relationships with local governments and urban commercial corridor leaders, and expanding UrbanMain services to several new cities. In this edition, Dionne highlights why UrbanMain is on a strong path for growth in the coming year.

UrbanMain technical service visits have grown to include over 10 municipalities, with a special focus on commercial districts in NMSC’s home base of Chicago. What new cities has UrbanMain expanded services to since last year? Where in the world has Dionne been?

It’s been a whirlwind of a year with lots of travel and new clients. Since last fall, I’ve visited the following communities to provide UrbanMain technical services: Chicago (51st Street, 71st Street and Beverly/Morgan Park); Buffalo, New York (Elmwood Avenue); Baltimore, Maryland (Belair- Edson, Pigtown, Highlandtown, Federal Hill, Fells Point, Waverly, Pennsylvania Ave. and Hamilton/Lauraville); Charlotte, North Carolina (Beatties Ford/LaSalle Corridor); Reno, Nevada; Terre Haute, Indiana; and Washington, D.C. (Woodley Park and The Parks).

The UrbanMain meet-up at the 2019 Main Street Now Conference in Seattle last March was a proud moment for you. Tell us why.

In 2017, we launched the inaugural UrbanMain convening in Seattle. Over 40 commercial district leaders from across the country were eager to learn about NMSC’s UrbanMain network, meet the new director of UrbanMain, share the types of services they were interested in, develop relationships with other practitioners leading corridor revitalization work across the country, and genuinely have fun getting to know their peers.Screen_Shot_2019-10-04_at_10_59_28_AM.png

These 40 brave folks took a chance on us! Just a mere two years later we were back in Seattle.. After experiencing its growth and the services being provided, along with seeing continued interest and excitement in what UrbanMain means to these communities– that meet-up at the conference was a proud moment for me. At a local gastropub, over 100 attendees were chatting about their experiences, exchanging cards with new colleagues, discussing their work, and sincerely enjoying each other’s company – an amazing sight to see.

The UrbanMain meet-up was an informal gathering that allowed a group of practitioners to connect with other folks who face similar working conditions, such as: apathy from local residents, the inability to attract local volunteers, difficulties accessing funding for start-ups and existing entrepreneurs of color, or how to slow down the pace of gentrification impacts on legacy businesses and long-term residents.

Last May, you attended the ESHIP Summit in Kansas City, Missouri. Talk about your experience.

Our relationship to the Kauffman Foundation as a national resource provider working to support ecosystem builders is a great honor and furthers NMSC’s efforts to provide innovative services and new partnerships to our community partners. It was my pleasure to highlight our work of building placed-based entrepreneurship ecosystems in Main Streets. I saw a bunch of old friends, but also had an opportunity to meet new friends that were interested in aligning their efforts to help local entrepreneurs succeed. Click here to read the ESHIP conference recap and for my thoughts on why location matters.

Screen_Shot_2019-10-04_at_11_01_03_AM.pngLast July, UrbanMain hosted an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Workshop in Chicago. National Main Street Center staff pose for a photo with special guest and moderator, Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton.

In July, UrbanMain hosted an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Workshop in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood with special guest Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton. What does this partnership mean for UrbanMain and Illinois Main Street?

It was exciting to feature Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton and for her to moderate the small business panel at the workshop! This new partnership demonstrates a renewed commitment and acknowledgement from the State of Illinois that it finds value in the Main Street Approach for its diverse communities – both small and big – across the state. Not only did the Lt. Governor moderate the session, she also made the rounds across the state visiting with local Illinois Main Street communities. Now that’s commitment!

Last August, you attended the World Business Chicago tour of select Chicago South and West side commercial corridors, including two Chicago UrbanMain communities (South Shore Chamber of Commerce and the 51st St Business Association). What are your hopes for World Business Chicago’s partnership with the Chicago Central Area Committee (CCAC), and how does that connect to UrbanMain?

I see this partnership as an opportunity to elevate the Main Street Approach in Chicago, by coordinating planning efforts and leveraging citywide resources to help strengthen and implement identified Transformation Strategies for the South Shore Chamber of Commerce and the 51st Street Business Association. CCAC is a consortium of professionals engaged in urban planning activities (i.e. architects, developers, title officers and examiners, etc.), and they are deploying teams of professionals into each community, free of charge!

Some of the engagement activities include: analyze up to 50 property PINS within a commercial corridor (ownership, tax status, liens, zoning, etc.); make recommendations that support energy and modernization efforts; prepare architectural renderings for potential improvements to storefronts, vacant property and redevelopment strategies; prepare renderings for cohesive corridor design (i.e. signage/neighborhood markers, streetscape elements, etc.); make infrastructure recommendations (i.e. sidewalks, traffic calming features, etc.); and research best and highest use for vacant parcels.

Screen_Shot_2019-10-04_at_11_03_20_AM.pngThis past summer, World Business Chicago, in coordination with its community partners, toured select Chicago South and West side commercial corridors as part of a corridor revitalization effort. Pictured here is a snapshot from Little Village (26th Street between Karlov Avenue and Pulaski Road).

What has UrbanMain done to improve communication among its network of practitioners?

NMSC has maintained connectivity to this burgeoning network of urban district leaders from across the country in the following ways:

· Neighborhood News, a publication featuring urban commercial districts that are implementing the Main Street Approach, highlighting trends and best practices for these districts (sign up!);
· Launching the program’s new digital home,;
· A Twitter account dedicated to UrbanMain;
· New partnerships with national organizations that appeal to urban practitioners, such as PolicyLink and the Urban Land Institute; and
· More educational sessions at the Main Street Now Conference, focusing on urban related topics (e.g. collaboration with anchor institutions, equitable entrepreneurship development, celebrating the ethnic culture of a commercial district, and entrepreneurship ecosystem trainings).

UrbanMain is on a strong path for growth in the new fiscal year. What’s on the horizon for 2020?

More travel is in store for UrbanMain to visit existing communities and forge new relationships with the following communities: Birmingham, Alabama (Civil Rights District); Woodbury, Salem and Westfield, New Jersey; a fourth Chicago UrbanMain District (TBD); District of Columbia Main Streets; and Charlotte, North Carolina (Beatties Ford / LaSalle District).

NMSC's Director of Urban Programs Dionne Baux takes a tour of Baltimore's Highlandtown Main Street during a Transformation Strategy Visit in June. Photo credit: Amanda Smit-Peters

Moving forward, the NMSC will dedicate more time to recruiting new members, hosting local meet-ups with coordinating programs and local cities when possible, providing resources that are meaningful to our members, and developing sustainable funding sources. Our work will also focus on solidifying network benefits; integrating a dedicated community for UrbanMain on The Point, the online networking platform for Main Street America members; re-purposing/re-branding existing toolkits (i.e. retail attraction, transportation, and entrepreneurship ecosystem guides); hosting citywide workshops to existing urban coordinating programs and big cities interested in participating in the network; and continuing to host an annual convening at upcoming Main Street Now Conferences.

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